A Christmas Away

For many obvious reasons, living abroad is different from being home. One of the times this is most evident is around the holidays. This was the first year that I’ve spent Christmas away from my family. It was strange not to be with them as they partook in all of our usual holiday traditions. My Dad’s family and many family friends come over on Christmas Eve for what is usually quite a large party. The next morning is the time when my parents and siblings exchange gifts around the tree, eating a coffee cake baked by my Nana (and in recent years we’ve added Bloody Mary’s to the morning’s menu). This is followed by another gathering with my Mom’s family. Although it’s nearly January, it’s hard for me to grasp that this time has come and gone.

For weeks I’ve been wondering why it just doesn’t feel like Christmastime. I thought maybe it was because of all of the above, but I think the weather is having a huge impact as well. Growing up in Boston, Christmas means frigid temperatures and usually snow. So living in a climate that is still hanging onto some 60F (16C) degree days makes me feel as though it’s still September. (If you’re reading this in a cold place, I apologize.) Sure Madrid has some great Christmas decorations but somehow it just seems to be a series of light displays instead of festive decor.

I think it’s important to mention the Spanish Christmas Lottery, also known as “El Gordo.” This is a massive lottery, and about 90% of Spain’s population plays every year. One ticket is 20€ but the first prize is 4,000,000€. People stand in very long lines to buy tickets starting weeks before the holiday. In an attempt to further embrace Spanish culture, I did buy a lottery ticket but unfortunately I am still not a millionaire.

I was invited to a very Spanish Christmas celebration with a friend and the family she lived with while studying abroad here a few years ago. In Spain, Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) is a big deal, and I’m told it’s the only night of the year that families eat dinner together (instead of the typical large Spanish lunch). Christmas Day is celebrated with more family and more food. Lamb is a popular dish, along with a lot of seafood. I personally enjoyed the many desserts including polvorones, turrón, and marzipan. Similar to my experience in Denmark, this family welcomed me into their home on an important holiday having never met me before. It’s hard to find the words to express gratitude to someone in this type of a situation. Thank you just didn’t seem enough. It was a really wonderful way to spend a holiday away from home.

Lost but not Lost

Hola desde Madrid!

Well, I’m here and I think I’m finally over jet lag. I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the neighborhoods around my new home, and so far I’m loving this city! Little by little I’m getting over my shyness of speaking Spanish (thanks to my new friend Sonia!) and hopefully that will continue to improve as each day passes.

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My new home

If you’ve ever travelled with me then you know I have an abysmal sense of direction. Like really, it’s terrible. Yesterday I set out to find la Plaza Mayor, a main focal point of Madrid and quite close my apartment. It shouldn’t have been hard at all but I ended up more than a mile east of where I wanted to be. That means for at least 20 minutes I was walking in the completely opposite direction from what I thought.

The upside of being lost is that you find awesome things you weren’t intentionally trying to find. I ended up at the Botanical Gardens near Retiro Park, which I had on my list of places to visit anyway. It was so beautiful and very tranquil. It’s so nice to find such peaceful spots in the middle of a bustling city. I meandered for a while and watched some very cool birds hop around and chase each other. (I have a feeling I will be a birdwatcher later in life, but I’ll save that story for another day.) Here are some photos of things I’ve seen so far.

One of my favorite quotes is “not all those who wonder are lost.” Figuratively speaking, I consider myself far from lost. Unfortunately my spatial awareness proves otherwise in the literal sense.